What a way to finish out my first year of ultrarunning. It couldn't have gone better, well, I guess it can always go better but I'd like to close out the year feeling content. And this race certainly gave me the opportunity to feel great about the way I finished out my first year of running ultras.
The day started off well enough. I got up around 6:30 AM and had my first cup of coffee. The race didn't start until 8AM, so I had plenty of time. My biggest concern was the weather as the forecast had predicted severe rain and thounderstorms at some point today. Luckily, it was dry outside when I got up and it would thankfully hold off for the entire race. I arrived at the start of the race (a mere 5 minutes from my house, yeah baby!) with about 15 minutes to spare. While there was no rain, it certainly felt much cooler that the forecasted 50 or so degrees. Oh well, I didn't really bring any layers or gloves, which seems to be the theme quite often when I run local races. For somereason I overpack when travelling but forget the basic emercengy things when running local, go figure.
The race course is a single 1 mile out and back loop followed by ten 3 mile out and back loops at the Cross Country Park on Airport Road in Huntsville, Alabama. The park is a thin stretch of woods between a golf course and residential neighborhoods. The course is a loop, but on the way back you run on a trail that parallels the first half of the trail. There are turn-around points for the one mile loop and a two mile loop. The trail runs mostly through wooded areas with a short stretch on the edge of the golf course. There are rolling hills except for one exceptionally steep section that is hard - both uphill and downhill.
The race got off to a timely start and me and 100 of my closest running buddies took off at 8AM sharp. It would be a race of two halves yet again, but more about that later. Then again, you will figure out pretty quickly what went wrong. I had been repeating a mantra in my head for the last two weeks: " Do not race, just run anything between now and Rocky Racoon 100 as a training run, do not race". As a natter of fact, Richard had been preaching the same thing to me over and over again, followed by: "Who am I kidding, you can never JUST run a race, you will ALWAYS try to race it." Unfortunately, he is correct about that one, even though I try really hard. But once I get to that starting line, I just wanna see what I can do. I can't help it. Maybe I'll learn soon. I certainly do not want to do anything that's going to put my first 100 mile finish at my second attempt at risk. But I digress...
I avoided lining up in the front row, feeling just a little bit intimidated by the accomplished ultrarunners that were taking part in this final ultra event of the year. I ran the first mile in under 9 minutes, clearly too fast for me to maintain. But as usual, I just get sucked in by the excitement during that first mile. Immediately after, I was able to saddle into a much more realistic (yet still unmaintainable...is that even a word) 9:30 per mile pace. I met a couple of runners I had met during last month's Dizzy Fifties and we chatted for a while. I was amazed that I was even able to chat at this pace.
During this time of "catching up" with other runners (in a verbal and not physical sense), I also made the acquaintance of "Jimmy Arkansas", a fellow newbie ultra runner, who attempted his first ultra. I refer to him as Arkansas because of his college shirt. I had the chance to catch him briefly after the race, since he finished way ahead of me and he told me that he was actually from Birmingham, so I had to correct my mental notes to change his name to "Jimmy Birmingham". By the way, Jimmy, a sincere congratulations on your first ultra marathon and a very strong top ten finish at that. I'm certain you'll continue to do well at these events. Jimmy and I were chatting for a few minutes and somehow my "slight" German accent led him to connecting the dots and asking if I were the guy with the running blog. After I confirmed his suspicion, he continued to tell me that he read a couple of my race report and that one of them actually made him sign up for the race I wrote about. I gotta say, that made my day. Not the fact that he signed up for a race after reading my blog, just the fact that he actually read my blog. Thanks again, Jimmy!
I continued along running a 9:30 pace and finished up the first half of the race in 2 hours and 27 minutes, faster even than the last 50K where I boked badly during the second half of the race. This time it was not a matter of if, just a matter of when. I managed to maintain a 9:30 average pace through mile 17. At that point my pace slowed to a 10:30 minutes per mile from mile 18 to 22. From mile 23 through mile 30, my pace continued to decrease by about 30 seconds after each two mile section. While I wasn't able to maintain the pace I had hoped for, I definitely did not crash and burn as badly as during my last 50K. I managed to run the last mile at a 9:30 pace, but it surely felt like I was running sub 7's.
With a mile to go, I really wanted to press as hard as I possibly could. Even though I paid the price for an aggressive start...again...I was able to keep moving at a somewhat reasonable pace. As a result, I was within reach of a new PR and I did not want to let that chance slip through my fingers. I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 18 minutes and 47 seconds, more than 10 minutes faster than my previous PR. I also barely etched out a top 20 finish finishing 19th overall. I couldn't have been happier. Other than the ongoing nagging pain in my left achilles tendon I also did not experience any unusual pain or discomfort during or after the race. Let's hope it stays that way with all of the races I've got coming up in the next two months.
First of all, I would like to thank Eric Charette for being a great race director. The event was very well organized and run and it also had the largest turnout yet based on 105 registrations. By the way, the finisher award was definitely the most unique and creative medal I have ever received. The weather was perfect and even though I didn't come out to race, I managed to come away with a new PR to finish the year on a high note. Hopefully, the great ultra experiences I've had this past year are an indication of the things to come in 2011.